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October 5, 2010

New Balance MT101 Trail Running Shoe Review

One of my favorite things about doing product reviews is that I have lots of opportunities to give stuff away.

I’m very fortunate to receive more gear than I could possibly use, and I love to pay that generosity forward as much as possible. However, since most of the things I give away have been worn for about 100 miles of trail running, I tend to shy away from handing them out online. Consequently, my training partners are the biggest beneficiaries of this policy, which also allows me to keep the very best gear for my own personal use.

So what does this have to do with a shoe review? Well, before I reviewed New Balance’s MT100 last December, I thought to myself, there's no way I’m giving these things away. The concept – a super-lightweight, super-high-performance trail runner inspired by the shoe-carving tactics of ultrarunning stud Anton Krupicka - was fantastic. The development of the shoe, incorporating feedback from top ultrarunners and hundreds of hours of biomechanical analysis, was impeccable. And the final specs – such as its 7.8 oz weight, midsole heights of 18mm (heel) and 8mm (forefoot), and aggressive outsole pattern with Rock Stop plating – had me drooling.

The more I heard about the MT100, the more enthralled I became; by the time the box arrived at my house, I was like one of those girls on The Bachelor who’s convinced she’s in love with the guy before she even steps out of the limo. I simply knew this was a shoe I was meant to be with.

But then a funny thing happened: on our first few dates, I noticed a couple of quirks that soon became red flags – and as we started spending more time together, those quirks became legitimate problem areas. Before I knew it, the relationship soured, and finally I did the unthinkable: I gave them away to a friend of mine. (Who loves them, naturally. And I pretend to be happy for them. You know how these things go.)

New Balance MT101
Needless to say, I was somewhat disappointed in how it all turned out – but when I learned that New Balance was updating the shoe this year, I jumped at the opportunity to test the MT101. I took a second chance on love, and it was the best decision I ever made – because this time around, everything has come up roses. The MT101 keeps everything about the MT100 that I adored, and updates the character flaws that were deal-breakers for me the first time around.

Aggressive outsole with scooped-out sections to decrease weight
For more extensive background about how the shoe was developed, check out my MT100 review from last year. You can also refer to that post for details on the midsole and outsole specs of the 101, because they’re essentially unchanged. From the midsole down, all the features of the 100 are carried over: the aggressive outsole with directional heel lugs for downhill braking; the 18mm/8mm midsole with ACTEVA cushioning; the Rock Stop forefoot protection. Even the overall weight of the shoe is identical at 7.8 oz.

The MT101 also maintains New Balance’s RL-3 racing last, which I find runs a bit small and short. One of my big problems with the MT100 was that my toes hit the front of the toebox on steep downhills, a condition partially attributable to the short cut of the last. I took the cautious route and sized up one-half size for the MT101, and I’ve had no issues with toe contact at all.

Lightweight mesh supported by gray EVA heel collar
Another contributing factor to my toe-mashing problem in the 100 was the upper itself, which is super-thin and framed only by a skeleton of EVA around the heel collar. It was fantastic for being lightweight and providing ventilation, but allowed a lot of foot movement on top of the midsole. One major improvement on the 101 is the addition of stability overlays on the upper (see first photo), which hold the foot more securely and prevent slippage towards the front of the toebox on downhills. (Just to be safe, though, I’d still recommend sizing up one-half size for these.)

Fabric and padding around heel collar - Hallelujah!
Without question, the biggest and most welcome revision to the MT101 is found on the heel collar, which is now lined with very thin fabric on the inside instead of placing the EVA in direct contact with the Achilles tendon. You’ll recall from my 100 review that this “ankle-biting” problem was persistent, and it proved to be the deciding factor in my giving the shoes away. In addition to adding the fabric, New Balance tinkered with the lip of the heel collar to make it smoother against the skin – and I’m thrilled to report that as a result of both of these modifications, I haven’t had any problem with heel pain whatsoever on the 101.

Lightweight tongue, Sure Laces, ventilated mesh upper with protective toe cap
A similar comfort revision is present on the tongue of the 101, which has a tiny bit of padding to eliminate the discomfort that some users felt when lacing the shoes tightly. (I never had this problem myself.) The tongue is still very thin and lightweight, and is secured by the same sausage-link Sure Lace system found on other NB racing models. One final tweak to the upper is a more durable and slightly wider toe-protection bumper at the front of the toebox.

As you’ve probably gathered, I’m extremely impressed with the MT101. It’s not a true minimalist shoe - that New Balance offering is coming soon – but it’s an ideal combination of the lightweight, low profile benefits of minimalism with a little bit of cushioning and protection so you can run like a maniac over any kind of terrain. These are my shoe of choice for our weekly 12-mile trail run where we often hammer the downhills at 6-minute pace, and it’s a perfect choice if you’re looking to PR at your local trail race. They’re durable enough to handle the most demanding ultras – in fact, Krupicka wore these for both Western States and Leadville this year – and comfortable enough that they haven’t given me any issues with blisters or hot spots, even right out of the box. I have more than 250 miles on my pair already, and they’ve shown no indication of wearing out yet.

In other words, this shoe is a keeper, and my training partners will just have to buy their own. Fortunately for their sake, as well as yours, the shoe is pretty affordable as well. The New Balance MT101 retails for $75 from TravelCountry.com and other online retailers.

*Product provided by New Balance USA
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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Tuck 10/6/10, 4:24 AM  

Luckily, it's pretty easy to make the 100 or 101 a minimalist shoe...


adam 10/6/10, 6:32 AM  

Great review. I am waiting (rather impatiently I might add) for my 101's to come in the mail. I loved the 100s and ran them into the group with their final run being my first ultra. Now I can't wait for the 101s to show up so I can beat the hell out of them too.

I like the green too. I've been wanting a pair of neon green trail runners for a while and these should come close!

Kovas Palubinskas 10/6/10, 7:25 AM  

Great review, I'm waiting for the Minimus to see if I prefer that instead.

JimDog 10/6/10, 8:54 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
JimDog 10/6/10, 8:55 AM  

Excellent review! I'm in need of a pair of trail shoes...these might just do the trick! But I agree with Kovas, I'm waiting for the Minimus to come to out.

Boris Terzic 10/6/10, 11:58 AM  

Great review, next time I am in the New Balance store I'll look these up.

Glad to know the ankle-biting problem had been solved.

Steve 10/6/10, 1:46 PM  

Just got a 12 and a 13 in the mail.

Man - I really need a 12.5

I called NB and they have no plans for a half size bigger than 11.5.


Hone 10/6/10, 3:22 PM  

Great Review!

The MTs are a solid shoe.

Jeff 10/6/10, 4:03 PM  

Great review - I just got my MT101's via UPS yesterday and I can't wait to get them dirty out on the trail! One thing about them that I noticed right away was that the toebox is delightfully roomy.

T Rant 10/11/10, 12:35 PM  

Did you notice any hot spots on your pinky toes. I just got my pair and the outer stitching on the inside of the shoe is rubbing the top knuckle of my pinky toe. I'm thinking this is a break in issue, but I wanted to see if anyone else has had this issue.

Thanks, Trent

Donald 10/12/10, 12:48 AM  

Trent: that hasn't been a problem for me, but it was with the 100. That's another reason I think sizing up one-half is a good idea.

T Rant 10/12/10, 8:51 PM  

Thanks for the feed back. I wear a 12, so a .5 size up doesn't work. I went up a size and actually started with a 13; the rubbing from the stitching was worse then the 12. I hope it's a break-in issue that will get better over the next couple runs. In the meantime, I'll wrap the toe in duck-tape...Thanks again, Trent

Anonymous,  10/15/10, 7:45 AM  

Trent I have the same issue. I got a blister after one mile on my left pinky toe. sent them back and gave up on them. Back to the original.

Tom,  10/28/10, 5:27 PM  


I had the same problem with my right pinky toe. I'm thinking the problem will go away with socks.

Dave Almquist 11/5/10, 10:07 PM  

I had gotten a pair of the 100's to use as daily footwear, in part based upon the review here, because regular shoes gave me pain in my left foot after hours to a couple weeks of wearing them. The 100's were the first footwear that I've had in 2+ years that did not give me any foot pain and I have worn them for about 6 months. I was excited to get a pair of the 101's, but they brought back the dreaded foot pain in less than a day and rubbed my little toes excessively unless laced very loosely. I wish that I'd stockpiled some 100's, as the 101's are unacceptable.

Donald 11/7/10, 8:07 PM  

Dave: Thanks for the feedback. I'm kind of surprised to hear that, since the bottom half of the shoe is essentially unchanged. I've seen some great deals on 100s though, so hopefully you can stock up for a while.

Kelton 1/18/11, 2:46 PM  

I'm also really bummed to hit a hot spot on both pinky toes. An upper seam is ruining a potentially great shoe.

Eva 2/22/11, 7:21 AM  

I second the recommendation to go 1/2 a size up. Got a blister on my right pinky toe from rubbing. Hopefully they'll break-in and room out over time, otherwise these are great!

Ralph,  4/29/11, 6:57 AM  

My first 6 mile trail run developed blisters at outside edges of both pinky toes and my right heel, despite sizing up 1/2. Duct tape to the rescue for the 2nd run. These shoes are too good to give up on. Rock plate works real well on the rocky and root strewn MA trails. Hopefully they will smooth out.

mooney 7/5/11, 6:13 AM  

Any chance New Balance is considering half sizes above 11.5? I really need a 12.5. this bums me out when manufacturers do this.

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